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acquaintance with society, or its usages and forms, wholly in. experienced, transferred to the care of strangers, and naturally indisposed to any exertion that might lead to efforts to conciliate them; she was brought from her own country to a distant land, to wed a man she had never seen, up to the period of her arrival in Italy, where, within a few weeks of her first meeting with that foreign gentleman, she was des. tined to become his bride.
Lady Harriet was exceedingly girlish-looking, pale and rather inanimate in expression, silent and reserved; there was no appearance of familiarity with any one around her ; no air or look of womanhood, no semblance of satisfaction in her new position were to be observed in her demeanour or deportment. She seldom or ever spoke, she was little noticed, she was looked on as a mere school-girl; I think her feelings were crushed, repressed, and her emotions driven inwards, by a sense of slight and indifference, and by the strangeness and coldness of everything around her; and she became indifferent, and strange and cold, and apparently devoid of all vivacity and interest in society, or in the company of any person in it. People were mistaken in her, and she perhaps was also mistaken in others. Her father's act had led to all these miscon. ceptions and misconstructions, ending in suspicions, animosities, aversions, and total estrangements.
In the course of a few years, the girl of childish mien and listless looks, who was so silent and apparently inanimate, became a person of remarkable beauty, spirituelle, and intelligent, the reverse in all respects of what she was considered, where she was misplaced and misunderstood.*
* Lady Harriet D'Orsay and her aunt, Miss Gardiner, visited the Continent in the latter part of 1833, or beginning of 1834. In Sep. tember, 1835, Lady Harriet and her sister, Miss Emily Gardiner, were in Dublin, residing with their aunt. Shortly after, the latter was married to a Mr. Charles White, who had travelled a good deal, prin. cipally in the East, written some works of light literature, and an account of his travels. As a gentleman of good education, agreeable manners and conversation, he was known to the frequenters of Gore House many years ago.
A few days before I quitted Rome for England, I received a kind letter from Lord Blessington to his friend John Galt, which I never had an opportunity of delivering. This letter of his Lordship was dated Rome, March 6, 1828.
“ Rome, March 6, 1828. “ The bearer of this letter, Mr. Madden, is a gentleman of literary acquirement and talent. He has lately returned from
. the East, and besides an account of deserts and Arabs, Turks and Greeks, he will be able to give you an account of friends at Rome. “ John Galt, Esq.”
May the 7th, 1828, Mr. Mills gave a farewell dinner to the Blessingtons at his villa Palatina, a day or two before their departure from Rome. A party of the friends of the Blessingtons were invited to meet them, and the final meeting and separation were anything but joyous.
“ Schemes of future meeting, too faintly spoken to cheat into hope of their speedy fulfilment, furnished the general topic; and some were there already stricken with maladies, the harbingers of death-and they, too, spoke of again meeting! Yet who can say whether the young and the healthy
! may not be summoned from life before those whose infirmities alarm us for their long continuance in it?
“And there were with me two persons, to whom every ruin and every spot in view were familiar as household words ;' men who had explored them all, with the feelings of the historian, the research of the antiquarian, and the reflections of the philosopher-Sir William Gell and Mr. Dodwell; both advanced towards the downward path of life, every step of which rapidly abridges the journey, and consequently reminds parting friends of the probability that each farewell may be the last. There was our host, seated in a paradise of his own creation, based on the ruins of the palace of the Cæsars, yet forgetful for the moment of the mutability of fortune, of which such striking memorials were before his eyes, thinking only that we were on the eve of parting. Mrs. Dodwell was there, her lustrous eyes often dimmed by a tear of regret at our separation, but her rare beauty in no way diminished by the sadness that clouded a face always lovely.”
He had resided in many parts of the Continent, and latterly altogether in Belgium. Mrs. White died in Paris abuut ien years ago.
Sir William Gell and Count Paul Esterhazy came to the Palazzo Negroni to see the Blessingtons take their departure. “ Poor Gell !” says Lady Blessington in her diary, “I still seem to feel the pressure of his hand, and the tears that bedewed mine, as he pressed it to his lips, and murmured his fears that we should meet no more.
“You have been visiting our friend Drummond's grave to-day,' said he, and if you ever come to Italy again, you will find me in mine.'
This was in the early part of May, 1828, and in the month of April, 1836, the accomplished, witty, ever jocund and facetious Sir William Gell was in his grave.
Lady Blessington, quitting Rome, speaks of her sad presentiment that she should see the Eternal City no more. She descants in her diary on the uncertainty of life, and especially in the case of those older or more infirm than ourselves, as if we were more exempt from danger and death than they. Strange delusion! that while we tremble for those dear to us, the conviction of the irrevocable certainty of our own dissolution is less vividly felt! we picture our own death as remote, and consequently less to be dreaded ; and even when most impressed with the awful conviction that we, like all
other mortals, must pass away, though our reason acknowledges the truth, our hearts refuse to believe that the event may be near."
The "event" was then twenty-one years distant from her own door of life.
From Rome, the Blessingtons proceeded to Loretto, where they visited the shrine of the Santa Casa.
“ The pious votaries of superstition, the folly of their munificence, wasting jewels “ to decorate an idol,” the tawdry appearance of “ the glittering toy-shop,” “ the heterogeneous mixture of saints and sybils,” of pagan rites and superstitious practices, came in for a pretty large share of the customary reprehension of English travellers, from Lady Blessington, the value of which, of course, mainly depends on the sincerity of the reprover.
In the present instance, however, Lady Blessington, was certainly not so much proclaiming her own sentiments, as writing up to the readable mark of those who were to be her public.
From Loretto, the travellers proceeded to Ancona and Ravenna, and in the latter place a spectacle was witnessed which Lady Blessington bas described in her published diary; but one very striking circumstance connected with it, is not mentioned in the diary, but was told to me by her ladyship.
Various were the conjectures we formed as to the probable cause of the desertion of the silent and solitary city through which we were pacing, and vainly did we look around in search of some one of whom to demand an explanation of it; when on turning the corner of a larger street or place than we had hitherto passed, the mystery was solved in a manner that shocked our feelings not a little ; for we suddenly came almost in personal contact with the bodies of three men hanging froin bars erected for the purpose of suspending them. Never did I behold so fearful a sight! The ghastly faces were rendered still more appalling by the floating matted locks
and long beards; which, as the bodies were agitated into movement by the wind, moved backward and forward. The eyes seemed starting from their sockets, and the tongues protruded from the distended lips, as if in horrid mockery. I felt transfixed by the terrible sight, from which I could not avert my gaze; and each movement of the bodies seemed to invest them with some new features of horror. A party of soldiers of the Pope guarded the place of execution, and paced up and down with gloomy looks, in which fear was more evident than disgust. Within view of the spot stood the tomb of Dante, whose Inferno' offers scarcely a more hideous picture than the one presented to our contemplation. The papal uniform, too, proclaiming that the deaths of these unfortunate men had been inflicted by order of him who professed to be the vicar of the Father of Mercy on earth, added to the horror of the sight.”*
Lady Blessington informed me there was another person who witnessed this horrid spectacle, and who was more strongly affected by it than any of the party. That person was a noble Marquis, of some celebrity in Ireland, who, travelling the same route as the Blessingtons, had left his own caleche, and entered that of Lord and Lady Blessington; and beholding the dead bodies suspended from the gallows, became deadly pale, and almost insensible.
Ferrara and Padua were next visited by the Blessingtons, on their route to Venice. In the latter city they fixed their residence for several weeks; and the journals of Lady Blessington abound with evidence of the excellent use she made of her time and talents, in visiting remarkable monuments, and recording her observations.
At Venice, the Blessingtons again made the acquaintance of their old friend, Walter Savage Landor. Verona was next visited by them, on their route to Milan.
* The Idler in Italy, vol. iii. p. 33.